Racing: Martin poised to repeat his Festival haul

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The Independent Online
THE REBRANDING of this weekend's meeting at Cheltenham has wrought changes. The sponsoring parent company remains the same (Whitbread), but out went old-fashioned Mackeson and the fug of t'northern snug and in came trendy Murphy's and three days of determined cheerful Irishness. You would sometimes swear you were travelling steerage on the Titanic, such is the feeling that homespun arm-wrestling and jigging might break out at any moment.

But the reprogramming and injections of prize-money over the past three years have had the desired effect out there on the course, with both quality and quantity of competition enhanced. And when the Irish bring their horses over for a piece of the craic the hint should not be discarded.

Tony Martin, from Co. Meath, has fond memories of Prestbury Park - he rode and trained Deejaydee, a winner at the Festival in March - and has already struck at the meeting and can do so again today with She's Our Mare (2.50) in the afternoon's feature, the Murphy's Draughtflow Hurdle. The tough, versatile six-year-old brought last season to a close with victory in a graded contest, the Swinton Hurdle, at Haydock and, reverting to the Flat for her next venture across the water, took the Cambridgeshire. Martin Pipe's runners are always worthy of respect - unbeaten Rodock, making his handicap debut, is the stable's first string - and Albrighton, sharper for his seasonal debut at Wetherby, may run well at a longer price.

Lady Rebecca, who subsequently emerged as one of the season's best staying hurdlers, made her first mark on this day 12 months ago. The equivalent race has a more workmanlike look to it this time, although Smint, from Josh Gifford's in-form yard, is clearly progressive and has already proved he stays the distance, always an advantage with such a testing run to the finish. Pipe, however, considers Heros Fatal (1.40) one of the best- handicapped horses at Nicholashayne. He is another reverting from the Flat at Newmarket, having run third in the other leg of the Autumn double, the Cesarewitch.

A winner for David Nicholson on his last day with a licence at Cheltenham would be entirely appropriate and Toto Toscato may be his best chance of the afternoon in the Grade Two two-mile novices' chase. However, he comes up against Fadalko in what may prove to be one of the definitive stepping stones on the way to divisional stardom. Both young French-breds won easily on their chasing debuts but Toto Toscato might prefer less lively ground and Fadalko (2.15), rated by Paul Nicholls as being definite Arkle Trophy material, is preferred.

The concluding bumper brings together four with winning form already this term, of whom the Venetia Williams-trained Halexy, eased almost to a canter when he scored at Newton Abbot on his introduction, looks the pick. But it may be worth taking a chance with the John Dunlop runner Captain Zinzan (4.00).

Today's cards, page 11